Getting out of your child's way

May 19, 2020

Last week I talked about believing in our kids' abilities and then getting out of their way. It sounds amazing in theory, but what does it look like in real life?

The truth? Sometimes it looks messy, scary and hard. I was reminded of this last week when a mom in my Facebook group shared about her 15-year-old who is failing in school:

"My daughter gives up too soon. How will she learn if I don't make her to do what she needs to do? Her choices will affect her options after school. She can't see that, but when I explain it she gets angry and says I'm lecturing her. I can't just give up... I feel maybe I failed her when she was younger! She sat in her room all Saturday sulking; she dismissed all my suggestions...didn't even try. What am I to do?"


This mom said it perfectly - stepping back can feel like giving up or failing our kids. We want to DO something to make things right. These feelings are so normal and when we see things going south, we resort to giving advice and suggestions, praising and cheerleading, or heavy-handed oversight. Unfortunately, these things usually backfire. This mom is a perfect example - she is working her butt off to help her daughter, but things are just getting worse.


Here's where the power of passivity comes in. What happens when we move from praising, advising and managing into observing, supporting and listening? Kids feel seen and heard. They take ownership of their lives because their actions are about THEM and not about the parent they are trying to rebel against or endear themselves to.


What I wish for this mom is exactly what happened for my client, Grace. Her son was failing school big-time, completely due to lack of effort. Months of power struggles and arguments had only perpetuated a pattern of tearful parent-teacher conferences, resolutions to try harder, and zero change in his grades. Meanwhile his self esteem, behavior at home, and attitude worsened. She had already created a consequence for poor grades (no driver's ed) but it wasn't motivating him at all until she decided to completely back off from engagement with his school work. We created a one-liner that she now uses whenever school issues come up: "I know you'll figure out what you want to do about it, and I love you no matter what. Let me know if you want any help." Within weeks he was spending twice as much time on schoolwork, and has actually sought Grace out for time management and emotional support regularly over the last two months.

"I know you'll figure out what you want to do about it, and I love you no matter what. Let me know if you want any help."

Grace stepped back while her son figured out what to do about school - it's both a much more passive place and THE power position. She told me she had a mindset shift that helped her stick it out: "I told myself it's a win either way: Either he makes choices that give him better grades, or he doesn't, and instead he learns to do things differently next time."

It's hard as hell to sit on our hands and bite our tongues when kids are making bad choices - especially when the stakes feel high. But staying passive is often where our power lies. Having a knowledgeable and objective person in your corner to help you see the solution and stick with it makes all the difference and it's what I do for my clients every day.

I'm ready to help you take back your power and watch your child thrive - reach out for a discovery call and let's make a plan for your family.